Andy Hill talks Scoring the Screen: The Secret Language of Film Music

Scoring the Screen. Hal Leonard Books.

Andy Hill took some time recently to speak to Solzy at the Movies about his new book, Scoring the Screen: The Secret Language of Film Music (Hal Leonard Books).

Thanks for joining Solzy at the Movies today. How are things treating you?

Andy Hill:  Pretty well, thanks. Having a book newly out is always nervous-making, particularly when it’s on a subject that so many people have strong opinions about. But it’s also exciting.

You recently wrote and published Scoring the Screen: The Secret Language of Film Music (Hal Leonard Books). It’s the first book since Roy M. Prendergast’s 1977 book, Film Music: A Neglected Art, to look at film music as something worthy of being studied. When did you conceive the idea for this?

Andy Hill:  Late in my directorship of the MFA program at Columbia College Chicago. That’s when I finally felt I had the material and the broad knowledge to pull it off. But the seed was there long before that. When I decided, back in the early 1980’s, that I wanted to write music for film, the Prendergast book was about the only thing out there. That and a book by Earle Hagen, whose claim to fame was having written the theme for Leave It To Beaver. There were very few classes in existence, and no way to see what the music looked like on the page. I was clueless. With Scoring The Screen, I tried to write the book I wish I’d had back then.

You make note of it in the afterward that John Williams nor Hans Zimmer’s work are included in this book, except for Zimmer’s score from Inception. It’s hard to think of original scores without thinking of the famous scores composed by John Williams. Are there plans to rectify this in a second edition?

Andy Hill:  As I wrote in the same afterward, the issue with John Williams was availability of his original scores. That’s the only indispensable source material I work with, and all of the composers featured in the book—or their heirs, if they’ve passed on—were generous and remarkably open in sharing this material. I simply couldn’t get John Williams to budge. I respect his reasons, but I can’t write about what I can’t see. At least, not in a book that promises to reveal “secrets.”

Another thing you comment about is the lack of female composers featured in the book. Is this a reflection on Hollywood not giving women enough opportunities when it comes to directing, etc?

Andy Hill:  There is no question that women are under-represented in this craft, and many others. But I don’t think it’s a matter of talent, nor that it’s primarily a matter of sexism. Hollywood gives work to the people who ask for it most passionately. And the people who ask for it are generally people who’ve been wanting it since they were adolescents—if not longer. Having seen the pace at which the industry works, there’s no time in the movie business to go out and pro-actively beat the bushes for diversity. Diversity has to come to Hollywood. The best female composers I’ve taught and worked with are the equal of any man. There just aren’t enough of them, and the task of correcting that imbalance falls mostly on the women themselves. The opportunity to do that lies in the college and university film music programs that have sprouted like beanstalks. They do indeed actively seek female students, and nourish them, and they are the new portal to the industry.

What do you want readers or students to take away from Scoring the Screen?

Andy Hill:  For those who aren’t composers or professional musicologists, I want them never to see or hear a movie in quite the same way again. I want them to pay as much attention to who wins the best original score Oscar as they do to who wins best costume design—or for that matter, best original screenplay. For those who aspire to a career in the field, I want them to feel that they’ve now had a good long look inside the machine and can identify its moving parts. More than that, I want them to see that none of this music happens without an understanding of story and drama, and a deep love of the movies.

Like many projects these days, you turned to Kickstarter for crowdfunding. Could the book have been published otherwise?

Andy Hill:  I don’t think so. The Kickstarter campaign quite literally made it possible for me and my family to eat while I wrote the first half of it. It also introduced me to many of the people who became the book’s principal champions. In addition, it demonstrated to prospective publishers—to some degree—that there was a “market” for a book like this. If you use something like Kickstarter strategically, it’s much more than fundraising. It’s platforming and networking and pre-marketing.

You were the vice president of music production of Walt Disney Pictures during the animation renaissance. Do you have a favorite film, score, and song of this era?

Andy Hill:  My very fondest memories—and the time when I felt the most “actualized” as someone making a real contribution—are of the period and creative ferment surrounding BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. That was, and remains, the supreme artistic achievement of the “Disney Renaissance.” Everything seemed possible, nothing out of reach. THE LION KING was a bigger hit, and also a magnificent ride, but by then, everyone had gotten in on the action and some of the joy had fled. I’m also very fond of the score for an odd little Tim Burton/Johnny Depp picture called ED WOOD.

Being a child of the 1980s, it’s a no brainer that I grew up with Alan Menken’s music. Did you consider featuring his work at all in your book? Do you have any fun stories to share of working with Alan Menken?

Andy Hill:  Yes, I did and yes, I do. In fact, I had designed a chapter devoted to Alan’s work on those three early films. It had to be set aside because I couldn’t put my hands on the written scores quickly enough. But I intend to make that right in a second edition of the book, if I’m fortunate enough that one is warranted. It was, as I’ve said, a joyful experience, and it would be a joy to write about it. Incidentally, John Musker and Ron Clements are writing a book about that era, and I’m doing an interview for them later in September. As for stories, I may have to keep you waiting. I can tell you this: I’ve never been as close to genius as when I was in the room with Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.

This year saw the release of Score: A Film Music Documentary. Have you had a chance to watch it?

Andy Hill:  I haven’t seen it yet, but intend to. A number of my colleagues out west have said great things about it. And the timing couldn’t be better. Maybe film music will finally get its due attention!

Thanks again for your time.

Andy Hill:  Thank you for having me.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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